Jonas Zdanys – Three White Horses

zdanys_jonasJonas Zdanys was born in New Britain, Connecticut in the United States. He received his B.A. in English from Yale University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the State University of New York. A bilingual poet and translator, he is the author of forty-six books, forty-two of them collections of poetry, written in English and in Lithuanian, and of translations from the Lithuanian. He has received a number of prizes, book awards, writing and travel grants, and public recognitions for his own poetry and for his translations. He has taught at the State University of New York and at Yale University and was a Scholar-in-Residence in the Yale Center for Russian and East European Studies. He is currently Professor of English and Poet in Residence at Sacred Heart University, where he teaches creative writing and modern poetry seminars and directs the program in creative writing.

Three White Horses

Midnight kneels in the park
by the river like a blind child.
No one can hear or see
and the light that comes
unexpectedly around the corner
is black at the core.
It drifts in its own darkness,
scattering to shudders
on the windows and ledges
of slow gray houses, remnants
of voices on a rising wind.
The secrets of the street
whisper across the thin cut
of the moon, clouds brushing
invisible through the dust
of the rooftops and walls.
Ghosts loiter on stone benches.
Cold crouches in the passing bell.
The mute white horse sleeps
with eyes open, swept free and frail
in the refuge of dead branches,
one of the shapes of the world
that cast no shadows in the glass.
Its sad bones land soft
and low on the dark street.

The shapes reflected
in the high windows
erode in the snow, lights
moving through the backyards
in bewildered echoes, dying
twice on the stained wood floor.
It is the thing that is important,
seeing with open eyes beyond
the mind’s eye, the new day
driven through the gate
even when the dark is too deep.
Tomorrow will die by your
hand, the end not yet written,
and the war will end.
The mirror mocks the sky’s
decline, ticking like a clock.
He flaps his arms like a white bird
and flies along the ground in the old
square, collar turned up to the wind.
Black birds settle on tired
statues, not moving, barely visible
under the streetlamps, and lean
against the snow as it covers the world.
He floats between the ground and air.
The trails of his breathing coil dazed
and pale as he sings memories
of superstition and mud, ice binding
his thin shoulders and wrists,
chasing the slow nothing of despair.
The statues kneel, persistent
in the crouch of night, the hollow
wind on eternity’s coast the sad
remainder of the day, and beat his
burdens mourning to the ground.
They know together who will die,
know the sound of judgment
as it kicks the door that shrives
the world in the chill of the year.
There is no other way home tonight,
no other custom to hallow the street.
This is what the black birds knew.
This is what the black birds know.

They lead the white horse at midnight
between the fence posts and rails,
watching which of its legs, right foot
or left, steps first in the furrows of each
marked row, its halting movements across
the stones a conjuring or divination.
The earth blackens and splits like
a dry seed as the gate slams shut, the land
infertile on the horizon, and the snow
drifts down to a burial of cold smoke.
I never wanted to see that place, branching
into hard lines that beat across the street,
the future a single hour under a dark November
sky squared to a sunken thing under the stairs.
There, the consolations of truth in ambiguous
circles leave no tracks and silence deepens
by degrees, brittle variables of a temporal mind.
There, the moment before the storm falls away
invisible and time braids together mystery and faith.
There. The clock unexpectedly strikes three.
The horse in the distance in the dark by the fence
winces with snow then bites the air.

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